From PsychEvos Wiki

Emotions are coordinating mechanisms that have evolved to solve specific adaptive problems faced by our ancestors. Emotions serve to coordinate various mental and physiological programs in order to address these problems effectively[1]. The concept is rooted in the work of Charles Darwin, who first proposed the idea in The Expression of Emotions[2][3].


Charles Darwin's original plan was to include his findings about the expression of emotions in a chapter of his work, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). However, he found that he had enough material for a whole book, resulting in the publication of The Expression of Emotions[4]. This work laid the foundation for the study of emotions from an evolutionary perspective.

Emotions as cognitive adaptations

Evolutionary psychology views emotions as cognitive adaptations that have evolved to coordinate the activity of multiple processes, such as physiological and attentional processes[5]. Each emotion is functionally specialized for solving a different adaptive problem that arose during hominid evolutionary history[6].

Examples of emotions as adaptive responses

  • Fear: Evolved to prevent or escape danger by coordinating programs in the mind and *body[7].
  • Disgust: Regulates exposure to potential contaminants and pathogens by eliciting aversion to harmful substances or situations[8].
  • Happiness: Functions as a reward signal for engaging in behaviors that increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction[9].
  • Sadness: Signals the need for a change in strategy or the need for social support in response to a loss or setback[10].

Universal emotions

Many psychologists agree that certain emotions are universal to all humans, regardless of culture. These emotions include anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness, and sadness[11].

Ethological concept of fixed-action patterns

The ethological concept of fixed-action patterns in animals has implications for understanding certain human psychiatric symptoms. These fixed-action patterns are innate behavioral sequences that are triggered by specific stimuli and are consistent within a species[12].